The text messages were damning.
A 15-year-old girl sent a text to Ryan Elseman saying “I'm in” — the signal that it was time for Elseman and three others to storm the basement of marijuana dealer Kristopher Winters' home near 50th and U Streets.
Elseman responded with: “Who's in there?”
Then, after the robbery turned into a melee and the shooting death of Winters, Elseman sent more texts to the girl, Emily Gusman, who had walked away while the men left in a car. He told her where to go to “get swooped up.” He told her to delete her messages. Then he gave her this advice: “Don't snitch.”
It didn't work. A Douglas County jury deliberated less than three hours before finding Elseman guilty Thursday of first-degree murder and weapon use in the July 2011 death of Winters. Elseman, 20, will be sentenced in November to the automatic life term that goes with first-degree murder.
Elseman's attorney, Don Schense, had argued that the prosecutors' case was built primarily on unreliable testimony of Gusman and co-defendant Drake Northrop.
Jurors told prosecutors that the texts buttressed Gusman's and Northrop's testimony. Omaha police also found a fingerprint on the getaway car that matched Elseman.
Prosecutors Stephanie Shearer and Matt Kuhse noted that the case might never have been solved if one of Winters' friends — who was in the basement — hadn't spotted Gusman leaving the scene. The friend directed police to her, and an officer discovered Winters' blood on her clothes.
The prosecutors are gearing up to try two more defendants. Nicholas Ely is scheduled for trial Oct. 1. Marqus Patton, whose first trial ended in a mistrial after one juror held out, is scheduled for late October.
Gusman, now 16, and Northrop await their fate. Gusman hopes to get her case transferred to juvenile court. Northrop hopes for an accessory charge.
“Six young people's lives are forever ruined,” Kuhse said. “And for what? A bag of weed and maybe $200.”
“It didn't have to happen,” Shearer chimed in. “Hopefully, this is a way for the (Winters) family to begin to get some closure.”
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